Slave Lodge, Cape Colony

Model of the Slave Lodge, end of 19th Century(P.Laponder) Image source

28 March 1652, the Dutch Merchantman, the 'Amersfoort', anchored at the Cape with a cargo of 174 Slaves. The Amersfoort's arrival in Table Bay, with Slaves in its hold, firmly brought the Cape Colony into the fold, of one of the most terrible Institutions of the last Centuries that being, the Slave Trade. Two years later, in April 1654, after struggling to get the fledging Settlement going, Jan Van Riebeeck once again wrote to the Heeren XVII, asking for Slave Labour. He wrote in his letter; ‘if it could be agreed upon, however, it would be very much cheaper to have the Agricultural Work, Seal-Catching and all other necessary work, done by Slaves; in return for a plain Fare of Rice and Fish or Seal and Penguin Meat alone, without pay. The Slaves could be obtained and brought very cheaply from Madagascar, together with Rice, in one voyage.’
On 10 June 1793 C G Höhne, Private Secretary, to the Governor wrote a letter to Cape of Good Hope. About the conditions of Enslaved People at the VOC Company, Slave Lodge in Cape Town. He stated with grave concern that due to ‘Increased Labour’ performed by a ‘much reduced number of the East Company’s Slaves’, Enslaved People at the Lodge, were not given enough time to wash their clothes or themselves as ‘for an extended period no Sunday or any day of cleaning themselves has been allowed them.’
The proper Housing of Slaves, in Cape Town presented the Dutch with a problem from the onset. When the first Slaves arrived on 28 March 1658, at first they were Housed within the Fort; they were then moved to a House called 'Corenhoop', built for them just outside the Fort. In the 1660s, they were moved to a specially designated Slave Lodge, immediately below the Company's Gardens. Because this building soon fell into disrepair, a new lodge in the form of a Single Storey rectangular structure set in an open court, was built to house some 500 – 600 Slaves. Work started in February 1679, but before it could be completed, the old Lodge was completely destroyed, by fire. The building housed the company's Slaves for nearly 31 years. By 1716 it had again grown too small, and in 1732 it was restored and enlarged. In 1752 it was again extended and was given a Second Storey. After the British Annexation of the Cape in 1806, most of the Slaves Housed in the Lodge, were sold. In 1807 when it was also decided to convert the Building into Government Offices. It was at this stage, that the Building gained its 'Fine Façade'. Designed by Thibault and erected by Schutte. While parts of its Decoration are the work of; Anton Anreith.  Various Governmental Offices were Housed in the Building during the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries. For example, the Governor’s Advisory Council, the Upper House of the first Parliament, The Cape Supreme Court, the first Library, the first Post Office, Deeds Office, and the Women’s Auxiliary Services of the South African Defence Force. The Building was restored in 1960, for use as a Cultural History Museum.
The Slave Lodge, opened its door as a Museum on 6 April 1966. The SA Cultural History Museum, originally a division of the SA Museum, became an Independent Museum, in 1969. In 1998, the Building was renamed, the Slave Lodge. In 2000, the Museum and its Associated Sites, amalgamated with its parent body. This also included the SA National Gallery, the William Fehr Collection and the Michaelis Collection to form, Iziko Museums of Cape Town.
In 1658, the first school for slave children was started by Pieter van Stael, the local sick comforter and brother-in-law of the first Dutch commander, Jan van Riebeeck. The main aims of the school were to teach the children Dutch and the Christian religion. This school did not last for long. Another attempt to establish a school was made in 1685, after the slaves were moved to the Slave Lodge. Children from the Lodge younger than 12 attended the school while children between the ages of 12 and 16 attended school two afternoons a week for religious instruction.  
The boys and girls were taught separately. Religious instruction was heavily emphasised, but the children also learned to read and write Dutch. Teaching the qualities of a good slave from the owner’s perspective such as obedience and respect, were not neglected either. All the children in the Lodge attended school during its 110 year existence. In stark contrast, according to the 1778 census, only 11.1% of free children and 5.3% of enslaved children in private ownership received formal education. The teachers at the school were slaves, convicts and free blacks (a term used for black people who were neither enslaved nor of indigenous origin). The first two teachers were Jan Pasqual for the boys and Margaret, a freed slave, for the girls. Jan was exiled to Mauritius less than two years later after being found guilty of immoral acts with the boys. The appointment of Daniel of Batavia as school principal in 1706 also ruffled a few feathers as he was a convict and black.
Several school teachers applied with success to be manumitted.Some slaves were set free or manumitted while the practice of slavery continued. Some slaves were set free as a reward for hard work. Some slaves, who were allowed to earn money, could save enough to buy their own freedom. In a few cases, a free lover of a slave woman bought her freedom in order to marry her. In other instances, the slaves purchase price was paid by family member who already obtained his/her freedom. However, manumission was rare at the Cape. Only about 14 slaves were freed each year during the 18th century. There were restrictions on the freeing of slaves. Usually, the slaves had to be able to speak Dutch and able to show that they were either able to earn their living or have money to take care of themselves for the rest their lives. This was to prevent slave owners from freeing slaves just to get rid of the responsibility of caring for old slaves who could not work anymore. There were few job opportunities for freed slaves outside Cape Town. Most freed slaves did not gain full citizenship rights. These freed slaves were called Free Blacks. As time went on, they were treated less like the Dutch colonists and more like the Khoekhoe. For instance, they had to carry passes when they moved about. There were even rules on how the women should dress. That was to prevent them from looking better than the burgher women. One of the official regulations stated that: That the freed slave women, from the point of view of clothing, not only stand equal with other respectable burgher women but thrust themselves above the same; thus it is that … in order to control this very irritating behaviour, we propose henceforth that: Freed slave women to be prohibited the wearing of coloured silk clothing, including hoop skirts, fine lace and any decorations on their hats as well as frizzed hair including earrings which are made of gems or imitation gems. 
Some free blacks even owned slaves! In some cases, these free blacks and slaves lived together in the same household and were part of the same family. In other cases the free blacks were part of the wealthy elite and were socially and economically removed from slavery. For example, Jan van Bougies, the Imam of the Palm Tree Mosque; owned 16 slaves between 1816 and 1834. Slaves were therefore never really ‘free’ or able to obtain equality, even in freedom! 
In 1807, laws were passed in England that stopped the slave trade by the beginning of 1808. This meant slaves were no longer allowed to be imported. However, people who were already enslaved and their newborn children still remained slaves and could still be sold. These new laws meant that slaves became more expensive, because there were fewer slaves available. The sale of slaves within the Cape Colony was also more carefully controlled. For, example, all slaves had to be registered. During the next few years, laws were passed to improve the lives of slaves. These laws are called the Amelioration laws: Slaves were allowed to make legal marriages after 1824; Families were allowed to live together: wives and husbands could not be separated and their children not be sold before a certain age; Slaves were now taught Christianity and the baptism of slaves was encouraged. Sunday became a day of rest; Slaves had to receive a reasonable amount of food, shelter and clothing; The number of hours the slaves could be made to work was limited; The punishment of slaves was more strictly controlled; Slaves were granted property rights; Slaves who worked in their free time could save what they earned, and buy freedom for themselves and their families - even against the wishes of the owner!
Some slaves in Cape Town were given a basic education. The government appointed slave guardians to ensure that these laws were obeyed. There is evidence that the slaves knew about their rights and made use of them. Some brought complaints against their owners in the courts or to the Guardian of Slaves. Both slave uprisings happened during this period. In both cases the slaves demanded immediate freedom. Persena van de Caab received his freedom in 1724, Jan van Manda in 1731, Anna van Jacoba in 1764 and Hans Jacob Jurgen van die Caab in 1774. It seems as if the position of school teacher was a profitable occupation as they were the only group of slaves that were willing to stay on in the Lodge after being manumitted. All teachers, including those who were slaves, received a salary.


• <p>Source: Prof. Robert C.H. Shell, From Diaspora to Diorama, (Cape Town: Ancestry 24, 2003) p. 1559/ Plakkaatboek, III, p. 62, 12 November 1765/
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Last updated : 18-Apr-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 14-Jul-2011

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